This post updated:
If you live in a home built prior to about 1985, there’s a good chance you have one room in which the builder did not install wiring for an overhead light. I suppose it was fashionable at the time to have lamps warmly lighting a living room- but in today’s multi-purpose living room, it’s far preferable to have an option to flip a switch to fully illuminate the room on demand.
My living room was one such construction. I wanted one switch near the door to control the lights in my living room, and I wasn’t about to open the pandora’s box of having an electrician run wires through Hawk Hill’s 90 year old plaster and lathe walls. It took a bit of research and creativity, but I figured out how to have my cake and eat it too- now when the wall switch is flipped in Hawk Hill’s living room, a chandelier and lamp brightly illuminate the room. Thrilled with the results for a few months now, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share the instructions for illuminating your own lair of darkness.
This tutorial is a great way for adding an overhead light without the expense or hassle of adding or altering existing wiring inside your walls and ceilings. It’s a perfect solution for renters in old homes- and even a good way to add a charming vintage fixture in a room with an existing but harshly colored lighting (i.e. many professional offices where harsh fluorescent lighting is the only overhead light source)
Step 1: Choose light fixture:
I picked a chandelier (of course!) but any fixture designed to hang should work (i.e. a modified pendant or drum shade style fixture should work).
Step 2. Convert wiring connection
I already have a popular blog post on how to convert a light fixture to a plug-in style lamp, but for optimal safety you’ll want to convert this light fixture a little differently from that method.
Since you’ll need a long cord to reach from ceiling to outlet, you’ll actually need to splice the wires of the light fixture to the male end of a heavy duty extension cord. An electrician can help you with this project (or you can pester the staff of your local hardware store for instructions, like I did!)
Step 3 Install a sturdy ceiling hook
You’ll need to install a hook on your ceiling for your new light. Because light fixtures can be heavy and especially dangerous if they fall, it’s very very important that you use a good quality hook and anchor it a ceiling joist or beam. Locate a joist just like you would locate a wall stud. Any stud finder or a number of tricks you can find via google should help you locate a joist to install a hook for your light.
Step 4. Hide or mask the cord
Once you have your light rewired and ceiling hook installed, installation can be as simple as just hanging the light fixture, however I’d advise putting some thought into how to mask or cover your cord. With your light hanging from the ceiling, the cord will be very visible. I chose a Velcro-On Chandelier Cord Cover to make my extension cord a bit less of an eyesore. (another option: use a custom length cord disguised as a manila rope available from Haddock Industrial.
Also give thought to the fact that your cord will be running down your wall. Can you conceal it behind molding? Tuck it around a picture frame?
You may wish to paint your extension cord to help it blend in to your wall. To easily paint a cord, just place a plastic sandwich bag over your hand, place an old sock over the plastic baggie, and then place a few tablespoons of paint in your palm. You can paint an extension cord in moments by pulling the cord through your paint filled mitt. The exposed section of my cord is painted Wythe Blue to match the walls.
Step 5 Adding & Setting up a Wireless Switch
By this point you’ll have a ceiling mounted light in your formerly lamp-lit room, but you’ll be limited to turning the new overhead light on and off by plugging it in and unplugging it. To add an easy wall switch, I scoured Amazon and found this gem (which I now have 3 of, around the house!) Westek RFK100LC/RFK101LC Wall Mounted Switch and Plug-in Receiver
This product comes in two parts: a wireless switch (basically, a remote control) that you attach to your wall, and a remotely controlled outlet that you plug your light into which turns the light on or off according to the signal sent by the wireless switch.
Here are a few views of how the setup works in my living room to control two lights. First, the zoomed out view:
Here’s a more detailed view of the setup:
And here’s a panorama of the room without furniture, scrunched way up so you can see the entire setup:
I still consider my living room a work in progress, but love how it’s coming together. Here are a few work-in-progress shots.
Speaking of animals, I had a particularly unwanted audience while photographing for this post. My nemesis, the groundhog:
Winter 2016/2017 Update: Using this method for auxiliary lighting
In 2015 I made the big plunge into tiny living, and two chandeliers made it past the love-inventory and were packed along into my downsized life. Although my studio apartment in downtown Seattle had overhead lighting, it never seemed bright enough to push back the gloom of Seattle winter enough to work on the art, craft, and DIY projects that demand good lighting. So I hung a chandelier in my apartment and repeated this method once again, this time with one change: instead of mounting the wireless remote as a light switch, I hung it with velcro-style command strips. This allows me to carry the remote to bed with me on nights I want the room fully lit as I get ready for bed, and turn the light off- without getting up- when I’m ready for bed. This has been such a small luxury- and such a delight to settle into bed with a book by the warm light of a chandelier.